For almost 700 years, Gatwick was just a name in faded ink on extremely old maps.
Its history dates from 1241 when Richard de Warwick turned over the rights to some of his land in the manor of Charlwood to John de Gatwick and his heirs.
Time rolled on, as time is wont to do. And then, in 1890, the land was bought by the Gatwick Race Course Company, with races starting in 1891. It even had its own railway station. Even then, its greatest claim to fame was being used to host the Grand National during the First World War with one of the winners being a horse called Poethlyn, which was ridden by Lester Piggott’s grandfather.
It was only when a young adventurer called Ronald Waters arrived on the scene that Gatwick made its way into aviation history.
The Gatwick Aviation Society records Dominion Aircraft Ltd keeping its Avro 504 G-AACX at Gatwick from November 1928, but credited Ronald as being the spark which brought the future airport to life.
An article in the Mid Sussex Times in 1980, described him as “an adventurous young man”.
He served in the Merchant Navy when still in his teens, pioneered a motorised mail route across the desert between Baghdad and Beirut and achieved 100mph on his motorbike on a circuit at Brooklands, Surrey. He even helped Sir Malcolm Campbell prepare for his land speed record attempt in South Africa in 1929.
Ronald learned to fly at Croydon Airport and was soon giving flying lessons and joy rides in Kent – but had his vision set on another site.
No one will ever know why he felt a patch of farmland next to Gatwick Racecourse would make a first-class airport - not even the Air Ministry in London, which didn’t share his enthusiasm but humoured him with an aerodrome licence, effective from August 1 1930. Whatever his reasons, Ronald made himself the true father of Gatwick.
After buying the land from the farmer, he launched the Surrey Aero Club, and the skies were soon buzzing with displays, flying lessons and aerial taxis.
While the new club was no doubt exciting, it also had its dangers. In January 1931, an Avro 504 was performing aerobatics above Gatwick when it went into a spin and crashed, killing all three occupants, including a ground engineer.
Ronald was not able to make any money out of the aerodrome and, with mounting financial problems, sold it to the Redwing Aircraft Company in May 1932.
They in turn passed it over to the Horley Syndicate Ltd - later Airports Ltd - for £13,500 in September 1933.
And so Gatwick’s rollercoaster journey towards its position as the world’s busiest single-runway international airport began.
As for Ronald, he was believed to have operated an aerial circus until health reasons forced him to surrender his pilot’s licence.
Her served in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War and, from about 1944, he set up a building business in Beckenham.
The 1980 article said of him: “He was always a man of vision, a man of adventure who feared no danger; a man of great energy and charm.”
He died in 1954, a year before Gatwick was bought by the state to be developed into ‘the new London Airport’.
Source material: www.gatwickaviationsociety.org.uk
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